Eric Liddell

Eric Liddell’s passion for running was inextricably bound up with his passion for God; from even a brief study of the driving force behind this man it is clear that he ran for God. In the film Chariots of Fire, which was inspired by Eric Liddell, he says, “…when I run I feel His pleasure.” The film, featuring Ian Charleson, captured beautifully the ecstatic moment in the 1924 Olympics when Liddell, refusing to run because his event fell on a Sunday, ran at the eleventh hour in an event he had not trained for, the 400 metres.

Eric Liddell Bronze Statue

I was commissioned to create a statue of Eric Liddell for the foyer of the planned Eric Liddell Sports Centre, which was to be constructed in the grounds of Eltham College. It seemed I was in the right place at the right time. I was Artist in Residence at Eltham College, the school which Eric had attended in 1908 as the son of a missionary. It felt wonderful to walk in the beautiful grounds of the school knowing that Eric too had walked there, and to retreat to an intimate attic studio in the Headmaster’s garden to study and ponder on the qualities of this unique man. I felt privileged, not just to be working in that space, but to have been entrusted to honour such an inspirational soul.

The more I read and studied about him, the more I realised that his courage was exceptional; not least in the manner of his running. It is well known that he presented a uniquely strange image of surrender as he approached the final 30 metres of the race. I knew that this was the moment I needed to try to capture, so I asked one of the young sportsmen in the 6th form to model for me. His first task was to run at full pelt across the playing field, and in the last stretch of this sprint to throw his head back in the manner of Eric. Witnessing this I remember my heart catching in my mouth. The youth told me it was a truly terrifying sensation, to suddenly have lost sight of your goal but yet to believe and trust that you would be taken there. In my heart the vision I had then was that Eric was striving, as a Christian, to reach the ultimate goal, to surrender himself body and soul to God. There was for me in his physical gesture of throwing his head back and reaching his arm upwards in an evangelistic ecstasy of surrender, an echo of Christ.

He had become at that moment the nickname given to him by the press, “The Flying Scotsman.”

As the sculpture took shape I felt his presence powerfully in my studio. At the time, I had just completed a small sculpture of Pegasus, which stood in a corner of the studio. One evening, working late, I had to shine a lamp directly at a part of his face. I looked up to see that a large shadow had been projected on the wall. The two sculptures had combined so that Eric was silhouetted against the wall and had grown wings. He had become at that moment the nickname given to him by the press, “The Flying Scotsman.”

Beyond the glamour of the Olympics, Eric went to China to become a missionary. He was captured and held in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The camp held 2,000 prisoners, instead of the 600 it was designed for. Early every morning Eric would pray for his fellow inmates and for guidance as to how he could help. According to an eye-witness and fellow inmate, when Eric died in the camp, all 2,000 of the inmates attended his funeral.

Lesley Pover and Eric Liddell Statue

Eric Liddell won the 400 metres race and a Gold medal for Britain. Witnessing him run in complete surrender to his God, he might have carried and lifted the battered hearts of many post war Britons; he certainly carried mine.
Eric Liddell in Studio